Relax. It Only LOOKS Like Diversity.

These are not your father’s Avengers. Or anybody’s father’s Avengers.

Here’s how the comic books dividing lines worked in my house when I was a kid.    The boys started off with DC and Batman and Superman and Superboy and then we got sophisticated and left Lois Lane’s 1000th stupid scheme to find out Superman’s secret identity and Jimmy Olsen being turned in a cockroach or something and moved over to  Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, X-Men,  and the wondrous splendor of Stan Lee/Jack Kirby’s Marvel Universe.

My sisters read Archie Comics.  And they were welcome to it.   Which reminds me…ever notice you never see Jimmy Olsen and Archie at any of the same parties?  Archie Andrews has never been cool, never been hip, or anything but a series of unfunny gags  from the world’s oldest teenager.  The dilemma was how to make anybody give a damn about this terribly trite ccomic book.

The solution to this problem was to create an alternate universe with an adult Archie.   It’s Middle Age Archie is going to get taken out as he courageously bites the dust saving his gay friend, a U.S. Senator from an assassination attempt.

This is the standard go-to move for the comic book companies to drum up buzz.   Take a beloved character  like Superman, Batman, Captain America,  announce they are going to be killed off and wait for the headlines.   And it works!   But what nobody bothered with was diggging into why Adult Archie was really about to bite it and it turns out because the title flat out doesn’t sell.   According sales figures from May, Life With Archie was #386 out of #439 comic books in sales.   It sold an impressive  2,064 copies.

To put it another way, if Adult Archie wasn’t about to die, they would have to kill him.  Shooting Archie is a mercy killing.

Far less of a contrived stunt is the Secret Life of Archie.   What secret?    There’s a pretty good reason he never chose between Betty and Veronica.



Hey kids! Suggestively Gay Comics!  I’m not saying.  I’m just saying.

Whether its offing Archie and Wolverine,  making Captain America a brother or Thor a woman, it’s all about pandering and pandering desperately for a little bit of attention.  Comics exist primarily as intellectual property for films and to tell the same stories in ever more expensive formats.     Whether they call it The New 52 or Marvel Now,  what comics primarily provide is not occasionally innovative fun, but meaningless “event” after meaningless event.

It’s 2014 and there is still only one monthly title from the majors with an openly gay hero. It’s hard enough to get the heterosexual White males that make up the core of the comics audience to support titles with women or racial minority heroes. When Marvel replaced the Ultimate Comics version of Peter Parker with Miles Morales, a Black and Hispanic teen that was a major change and I recall the howls of outrage fueled in part from racist comic fans. It’s no accident a lesbian lead character is as far as pushing the envelope with sexual orientation goes. A homosexual super hero’s got no shot.

Change the gender, change the race, change nothing else.

Change the gender, change the race, change nothing else.

Homophobia is one reason  the concept of gays in comics is confined primarily to second-stringers, supporting characters and heroes which can be created, discarded and forgotten.

The takeaway from all this is its okay to kill off a long-running established characters (because they always come back) and its okay to give over their name and uniforms to a woman or person of color (because they will eventually take the name and uniform back) or to marry them off, rape and murder their wives, husbands and family members, impregnate them, body swap them, paralyze them, lop off a limb, steal their sight, make them old and infirm, and pretty much do any blessed thing to a long-running established character because you can always retcon it out of existence.

Don’t stress over Dead Archie,  Muslim Ms. Marvel, Thor with breasts in her breastplate or Afro Cap.  Before you can start to hate it, it’ll be over.

Just don’t make them gay.  Phony diversity is cool, but that is the Line of Death which must never be crossed.   There are straight fans who would riot if a major super hero came out.   Or create really angry Tweets.   The prospect of  pissing off all those timid editors and misogynist, homophobic fanboys would be reason enough to do it.   Every group wants to see themselves in their heroes and not only the ones whom are popular with the majority and  comics shouldn’t pander  exclusively to the majority while the minority settles for tokens and table scraps.

I would  be a lot more interested if we were about to get a Black writer on Captain America. Or about any comic book from Marvel and DC.  I’m  over diversity for the sake of appearances thing

If Lois Lane can turn into a Black woman it’s equally possible for Superman and Batman to look deeply in the others eyes and tenderly whisper, “I wish I knew how to quit you.”  Is that an image that disturbs you, dead reader?  Perhaps, but enough with  seven decades of the side eye and vague hints. Go big or go home.

It’s only a comic book and comic fans like difference in their comics.  Just not the radical kind.

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Super Heroes Occupy the Summer Box Office

"Okay guys. Drop your weapons. The Avengers isn't until May."

I didn’t see enough films in 2011 to do a proper Top 10, but I did see four out of the five superhero flicks released last year (sorry, Green Lantern,  but as soon as I saw that first terrible trailer, I knew I wasn’t coming anywhere near a theater where you were playing and The Green Hornet starred Seth Rogan. ‘Nuff said.).    Though Super is to superhero flicks what a McNugget is to a piece of fried chicken.

This is what I thought of the 2011 crop of super hero fantasy flicks and each and every one of them will be completely forgotten once The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises open.   Unless they’re bad in which case a billion fanboys will kill themselves but only after running riot and burning down the theater.

"This armor is great. Except when I need to scratch."

THOR starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba, Tom Hiddleston.  Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Budget:  $150 million  Gross:  $181,030,624

Verdict:  Three hammers out of five

The first super hero of the summer was potentially the most problematic.  Thor is a big shot in the Marvel Universe, but hardly anyone who has never read the comic book has any idea who he is.  To a layman, Thor is the guy they studied one day when they covered Norse mythology and even then he was some burly redhead, not a blonde surfer hunk.   Thor seemed like a tough sell to me and if director Kenneth Branagh couldn’t pull off the scenes where Thor throws his hammer the possibility of failure seemed imminent.

I shouldn’t have worried.   When the hammer strikes, Thor is pretty bad ass.  Unfortunately, it soars in the scenes in Asgard and snores when Odin (Anthony Hopkins) kicks Thor (Chris Hemsworth) down to earth so he can take off his shirt and make Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) all hot and bothered.

Thor is two movies.  A balls-out action story and a clunky love story with some pretty lame stabs at comedy.   I remember everything about the battle between Thor and the Frost Giants and have forgotten nearly everything  when he’s earthbound.   There’s an okay battle with The Destoryer after Loki (Tom Hiddleston) sends him  to finish off the powerless God of Thunder and a gratuitous cameo by Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye and a lot of scenes of Hemsworth and Portman sniffing each other’s butts like two dogs in heat.

Okay, not really, but it would be more interesting if they had than all the yakking they do about nothing.  Branagh  made his bones directing Shakespeare stories and I wish he would have cut back some of the dialogue and exposition and pumped up more scenes of Thor hitting things with his hammer.

I liked Thor, but I didn’t love Thor.  Tom Hiddleston made Loki both interesting and surprisingly sympathetic.  I kind of was on his side for a while because Hemsworth played Thor as an arrogant, swaggering prick for most of the movie and was a bit more believable than his “these mortals are worth fighting for” change of heart of the last 30 minutes.    As the battling siblings Hemsworth and Hiddleston are perfectly cast  and Hopkins makes a sufficiently omnipotent Odin.  I didn’t even mind Idris Elba as Heimdall, but if all the clunky scenes on Earth with Thor and Portman were taken out, nothing would be lost by the omission..  Since Marvel had to give Thor a reason to come back to earth to appear in The Avengers, the prospect or a future booty call as motivation.

 

“Hey Peggy. My shirt come back from the cleaners yet?”

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER   Starring Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley (sigh) Atwell, Stanley Tucci, Samuel L. Jackson.  Directed by Joe Johnston

Budget: $140 million Gross:  $176,654,505

Verdict:  Four shields out of five.

You have to give director Joe Johnston and the screenwriters credit.  They took perhaps the corniest superhero in the world –a dude wrapped in the flag—and told his entire origin in a way that was completely involving.    There’s a lot of set-up with Steve Rogers before you ever get a chance to see Captain America throw his might shield , but I was never bored by the decision to take the time to establish why there was a need for a super solider and how Captain America had to grow into the role.

Chris Evans as the Human Torch was supposedly the best thing about the two Fantastic Four movies I have successfully avoided watching and if this third bite of the apple had tanked his next stop might be in some terrible police procedural  on CBS.  He nails both Rogers and Captain America and like Christopher Reeves as Superman and Clark Kent, it’s very important to get both the super hero and the secret identity right.

Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci add veteran gravitas to the essentially silly concept and Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull is the best he’s been since Agent Smith (and much better than he was hiding behind a Guy Fawkes mask in V For Vendetta).    The introduction of The Howling Commandos (minus Nick Fury as Sgt. Fury) didn’t do much for me and Bucky getting greased so fast was a blink and you’ll miss it moment, but I bet he’ll return for the inevitable sequel.

"^Yoo hoo, Captain. I found your shirt."

The revelation was Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Cap’s soon-to-be-long-lost-love interest.   I’d never seen Atwell in anything prior to Captain America, but every time she’s on the screen is a homina homina homina moment.    She’s the kind of woman that makes me happy to be a straight man.  If DC ever wants to get a Wonder Woman movie made, cast Atwell and I’m there on opening night and I don’t even like Wonder Woman.   Yeah, her British accent is veddy thick, but Warner Brothers should lock her up in a contract and then lock her away in a room to watch a marathon of House until she can conceal her accent as well as Hugh Laurie.

"Did you just see the Golden Gate Bridge go lfying by?"

X-MEN:  1st Class  starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender,  Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne.  Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Budget: $160 million Gross:  $146,408,305

Verdict: Three and ½ “X’s” out of five

This is the Marvel super hero movie that falls outside of the control of the Mighty Marvel Studios, but harkens back to than the preceding X-Men movies and Kick-Ass too (but not Wolverine ‘cause that movie never happened).

Bryan Singer directed the first two X-Men films, abandoned X-Men: The Last Stand to direct Superman Returns, which may be why both underwhelmed me so, but returned to produce 1st Class.  Matthew Vaughn directed it and fresh off of the dark, but hilarious send-up of super heroes, Kick-Ass, turned in a movie with a lot of serious intentions going on.

When the idea was floated for a solo Magneto movie, nobody could conceive how 72-year-old Ian McKellen could carry a movie about a mutant super villain.   After watching Michael Fassbender  do Magneto as a relentless Nazi-hunter, I could totally buy it for two hours in the dark.

James McAvoy is just okay as Charles Xavier.  Nothing more and nothing less.  I can find a dozen more charismatic actors that could have stuck the landing better.   McKellen and Patrick Stewart inhabit the yin-yang of Magneto and Xavier so thoroughly, but McAvoy is pretty drab compared to Fassbender who takes Magneto and turns him into a screen test for the replacement of Daniel Craig when he gets too craggy to play James Bond (any minute now).

Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique is pretty, sexy and more interesting in her scenes with Fassbender than McAvoy (whom the more I think about his performance the more I dislike it).  The rest of the first class of X-Men are mix-and-match, though the guy who plays The Beast is light years ahead of Kelsey Grammer’s  version in The Last Stand.

Hunger games? I can think of some games I'm hungry to play.

The movie is good, but it’s not a lot of fun even with the Hugh Jackman cameo.   It takes itself very seriously in a way a parody like Kick-Ass doesn’t try to be.   I give Vaughn credit for taking things in a completely different direction from his previous movie.   First Class was popular with the critics pulling down a 87percent “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes compared to 79 percent for Captain America and Thor’s 77 percent, but domestically it didn’t recoup its budget, though it did bring in over $355 million worldwide.   I guess  after the American non-comic book audience realized there was no Wolverine and an all-new cast of X-Men, they weren’t feeling the love.

"Come see my movie or I'll beat you to death."

SUPER  starring Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler, Kevin Bacon: directed by James Gunn

Budget:  $2.5 million Gross:  $324,138

Verdict:  Two and a half pipe wrenches out of five

Super qualifies as a super hero movie in the same way Kick-Ass qualifies as one:  Just barely   Iit’s just as violent and even more graphic as anything in Kick-Ass.  But unlike Matthew Vaughn,  James Gunn doesn’t want anyone to laugh at the sad sack Crimson Bolt because  Rainn Wilson plays him as a disturbed psychopath who is no better than the criminals he’s beating up.

I’m no fan of Wilson.  Never watched The Office, but if he’s as big a creep there as he is here that was the right call.  Wilson plays Frank, a schlub fry cook whose wife (Liv Tyler) is seduced and strung out on heroin by the nefarious Jacques (Kevin Bacon).  Unable to free her by conventional means since the police are always useless in these kind of films, he gets divine inspiration to become a costumed vigilante.

No super powers?  No problem.  As the Crimson Bolt, Frank hunkers down by a dumpster and waits to brain drug dealers and cretins who jump the line at movies with a big honkin’ pipe wrench while screaming his motto, “SHUT UP CRIME!”  It’s not exactly going for realism.

Along the way he picks up an unwanted sidekick, Libby, a comic book geek girl, (Ellen Page) who turns out even more of a hard core crazy than Frank is as she creates her own costume and anoints herself “Boltie.”  Soon she’s sitting next to Frank behind dumpsters waiting to commit acts of ultra-violence and extremely  discomforting sexuality.

How extreme?  Let’s just say if you ever wondered what it would look like if a horny Robin raped Batman, you won’t have to wonder again.  This is quite a rape-y movie.  Wilson’s inspiration to try super-heroing comes via tentacle rape.  Bacon rapes Tyler.  Page rapes Wilson.  Rape. Murder. More rape.  James Gunn likes rape.

This was a hard movie to figure out.  Is it supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek send-up of superheroes, a graphic violent and profane put down of the genre, a gross-out black comedy or none of those things?  It’s hard to tell.  Wilson has limited range as an leading man and Gunn’s script is too muddled to make his point.  Even at 96 minutes, Super feels long . Boltie/Libby is twisted as a pretzel and Page has a lot of fun with the role.  It’s as far as she can get from Inception or Juno which is what probably appealed to her.  That, and the chance to moan, “It’s all gooshy.”

I only wish I could have had as much fun with Super.   It’s got a nasty streak mixed in with the humorous aspects, but even though I like strange cinema as much as the next freak, I can’t totally recommend this one.  It’s worth watching once to judge for yourself, but it’s numerous flaws and scattered story ultimately don’t engage.

Happy New Year.  2012 is going to be a huge year for super heroes if you like that sort of thing.  If you don’t there’s always the second part of Twilight: Breaking Dawn.

Crazy things come in small packages.

Vampire Killer, Super Hero Savior

The name's "Blade." Can you guess why?

A friend sent me an e-mail all geeked after watching The Avengers trailer and he was stoked!   He wanted to know how superheroes became such a fundamental part of the summer movie madness.   My answer was it all started with a Black “hero” who proved there was money to be made in mining comic books for gold.

The superhero movie that doesn’t get nearly enough credit for kick-starting the superhero movie genre is Blade (1998).  Before it the last caped crusaders we had the bloated mess that was Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin (1997) that croaked the franchise until Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale breathed life back into it minus the Arnold Schwarzenegger quips and nipples on the Bat-suit.

But Marvel was even more dead in the water.  Think about what kind of superhero movies they had cranked out.  The Punisher with a mumbling Dolph Lundgren?  Roger Corman’s made for ten cents version of The Fantastic Four?  Junk.

Then along came a little movie about a third-rate supporting character in the long canceled Tomb of Dracula comic book.   Nobody had any expectations from Blade, but it totally kicked ass with a tough performance from Wesley Snipes and surprisingly stylish direction from Stephen Norrington. It also had one of the coolest openings of any action flick (see below).  Blade kills men, women, guards.  He even kills the d.j. Man, Blade sure does hate techno music.

Blade didn’t make a ton of money (made for $45 million and grossed $75 million), but it did make enough money to show Hollywood there was a market for super hero movies that didn’t insult the intelligence of its audience.

Marvel picked up the lesson.  Next up were Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000) and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002) and that got the superhero movies off the mat and back into the business of being summer movie blockbusters.

Not until Batman Begins (2005) did DC get back in the game and though The Dark Knight Returns is the best superhero movie ever made, Marvel has been far more successful in diversifying their portfolio with multiple characters having lucrative launches while DC has so far failed to generate a similar character (Superman Returns, Jonah Hex, Green Lantern) to build franchises around.

But it all began with Blade and though it’s kind of been forgotten, it shouldn’t be.   The sequels Blade II is just as good as the original while Blade:Trinity is a hot mess that killed the franchise  deader than Batman & Robin.   Despite the 49-year-old Snipes’ problems with the IRS, Blade is a character that deserves to return even if the role has to be recast.

Superhero movies have gone from something Hollywood looked down its nose at to one of the most essential determining factors on whether it’s a profitable year or not.  Paramount and Warner Brothers have millions tied up in next year’s The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises,  but the expectation is both studios will rake in millions more.

Blade is not a great movie.  It’s not made on the ambitious scale of a Thor or Captain America: The First Avenger.   It’s a B-movie and it’s bloody, cynical and earns its “R” rating.  When Blade growls, “Some motherfuckers are always trying to ice skate uphill” you don’t even care that it’s a badly written line that makes no sense.   Superheroes don’t say “mother fucker,” but then Blade is a vampire slayer, not a superhero.

If not for a vampire slayer who won’t pay his taxes we might not be stuck with superheroes up to our eyeballs..

Bigots Bent Over Black Actor Cast As White God.

Yeah, I can see the resemblance.

The Council of Conservative Citizens, the modern-day offspring of Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour’s favorite segregationist organization, the White Citizens Council, is seriously ticked off over a Black man playing a Norse god in the upcoming comic book movie, Thor.

Roll that thought around in your mind and consider just how silly that is.

The Council of Conservative Citizens has launched a website calling for a boycott of the new Marvel comic-inspired film Thor, because a character is being played by a black actor.

The CCC is the contemporary incarnation of the segregationist Citizens Councils, which sprung up across the South in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education and which possible Republican presidential candidate Haley Barbour praised in a recent interview.

“It seems that Marvel Studios believes that white people should have nothing that is unique to themselves,” a post on the CCC’s website reads. “An upcoming movie, based on the comic book Thor, will give Norse mythology an insulting multi-cultural make-over. One of the Gods will be played by Hip Hop DJ Idris Elba.”

Elba is probably better known as the award-winning actor who starred in The Wire, American Gangster and a brief stint on The Office.

Boycott-thor.com expands on the CCC’s position: Marvel has a history of advocating for the left-wing. In early 2010 they even used their Captain America comic to attack the TEA Party movement. Marvel front man Stan “Lee” Lieber personally funds left-wing political candidates. Now Marvel has inserted left-wing social engineering into European mythology, casting a black man to play a Norse deity.

Now those are some bloodshot eyes!

Idris Elba is a “hip-hop DJ?”  Get the hell outta here!  Who knew?   Elba has taken flak from comic book nerds upset that the very Black actor was cast by Thor director Kenneth Branagh to play the very White and Nordic Heimdall.    For his part, Elba is having fun with the color-blind casting.

“There has been a big debate about it: can a black man play a Nordic character?  Hang about, Thor’s mythical, right? Thor has a hammer that flies to him when he clicks his fingers. That’s OK, but the colour of my skin is wrong?

“I was cast in Thor and I’m cast as a Nordic god  If you know anything about the Nords, they don’t look like me but there you go. I think that’s a sign of the times for the future. I think we will see multi-level casting. I think we will see that, and I think that’s good.”

When I read Elba was playing Heimdall, I just shrugged.  No, Heimdall isn’t Black, but neither was the Kingpin when Michael Clarke Duncan played him in Daredevil.  Where was the Council when Halle Berry followed in the boots of Eartha Kitt in giving Catwoman an extreme makeover?  Now there’s a movie that deserved a boycott.

I did like the way the Council put it out front that Stan Lee’s real last name is “Lieber” because he’s Jewish, you know and we all know how those Jews just love to subvert Aryan superheroes like Thor and Odin.  I bet when Stan “the Man” Lee and Jack “the King” Kirby (real name Kurtzberg) came up with the idea of turning the Norse god of thunder into a super hero and setting him against the likes of Mangog, The Grey Gargoyle and the Radioactive Man, they were secretly hoping to make Thor an advocate for affirmative action.

The site also foams the mouth over Marvel’s dark history of publishing “extremist Black Power” comics like The Black Panther.  Gee, what would they say about Luke Cage marrying a White woman and fathering her baby?  Hey kids, Miscegenation Comics! Sweet Christmas!

Here we have just another in a long series of superhero movies where casting decisions are made all the time that infuriate and baffle fans of the original comics.   Some have already griped the actor cast as Thor looks as though he should be toting a surfboard and not an enchanted hammer.   The Council really has nothing better to do than call for boycotts of comic book influenced movies based on mythical characters?

The Council should relax, light up a cross or two,  and unclench. It really could have been much worse.

This is just wrong on so many levels.